Donald Trump told a reporter the other day that he considers himself an "open book." The president repeated the line at yesterday's White House press conference, agreeing, "I think I am an open book."
With that in mind, a reporter asked Mr. Transparency a fairly obvious question.
Q: So point blank, if Democrats go after your tax returns, will you try to block that or will you allow them to have it?TRUMP: Well, look, as I have told you, they're under audit. They have been for a long time. They're extremely complex. People wouldn't understand them. They're done by among the biggest and best law firms in the country. Same thing with the accounting firms. The accountants are -- a very, very larger, powerful firm, from the standpoint of respect. Highly respected. Big firm. A great law firm. You know it very well. They do these things; they put them in. But people don't understand tax returns.
He went on for a while, reflecting on the greatness of his business ventures, the complexity of his tax materials, and the difficulties mere mortals would have in trying to comprehend the documents. He ultimately said he'd consider releasing the returns at a later date.
Eventually, the reporter was able to ask, by way of a follow-up question, "So that means that if the audit is still on, you will not turn over the tax returns, or you'll fight to block it?"
Trump replied, "When it's under audit -- no, nobody would. Nobody turns over a return when it's under audit, okay?"
Well, no, I'm not sure it is okay.
First, Trump has promised disclosure for quite a while, but for reasons the White House has never fully explained, he's never followed through.
Second, every president since Watergate has had his tax returns audited automatically. Trump's predecessors, however, didn't use this as excuse for unexplained secrecy. (Barack Obama, for example, posted his tax returns online for the public to review.)
Third, his preoccupation with the materials' complexity is irrelevant. Even if the returns are as complicated as Trump claims, there are plenty of tax experts who could review the documents and help the public understand them. It's not a legitimate excuse to justify the kind of secrecy no modern president has insisted upon.
A fight over this is going to be tough to avoid in the coming months. The Washington Post reported overnight, "Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), expected to become the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee once his party retakes power in January, plans to insist Trump voluntarily release his tax returns, he said in an interview. If Trump doesn't, then Neal will file a legal request with the treasury secretary that would require the returns be disclosed to a small group of people on Capitol Hill. He predicted the matter would end up in federal court."